Posts Tagged: Florida

Small victories for big rail corridors

Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood announced yesterday that the U.S. Dept. of Transportation will give Michigan a $196 million grant toward the construction of a rail corridor between Detroit and Chicago. The Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch points out that the money comes a weeks after DOT gave Illinois $186 million toward a Chicago to St. Louis corridor. Construction of the Chicago to St. Louis high-speed rail corridor — the trains will go up to 110 mph — is already underway.

But hold your applause, mass transit advocates. This money is coming from $2.4 billion that Florida relinquished when new Gov. Rick Scott killed a high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa. Much of this money was cut in the last-minute 2011 budget agreement, and will not be fully reallocated to states like Illinois and Michigan that want the mass transit cash.

Illinois: Hey, we’ll take Florida’s train money

As other states reject federal high-speed rail money, Illinois is asking for more. Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, announced yesterday that the U.S. Dept. of Transportation will provide $685 million to begin construction April 5 on a high-speed rail track between Springfield and Joliet. Overall, the state is supposed to get $1.2 billion to build a track between Chicago and St. Louis — but Greg Hinz of Crain’s Chicago Business points out that Illinois could get more federal cash. (more…)

COBRA Needs A Quick Re-Working

Via ProPublica, the Miami Herald’s John Dorschner reports on the shortfalls of COBRA, the federal and state government program to help the recently unemployed get health insurance. Some of this terrain was covered in an excellent Wall Street Journal piece last week by Ianthe Jeanne Dugan: Under the stimulus bill, the Dept. of Labor temporarily subsidizes 65 percent of the premium costs for the recently unemployed to stay with their former employer’s health insurance provider. One problem with COBRA is that even paying just the remaining 35 percent of the premium is too much for many people. Another is that COBRA is limited to employees who worked for companies with 20 or more employees.

What the Herald adds is that states like Florida have expanded COBRA to cover laid off employees at companies with fewer than 20 workers. But insurance providers — nervous that the deficit-wracked state will not come through with their share of the monthly payment — are not helpful in providing COBRA-subsidized coverage. The Herald uses the example of someone cut off from COBRA because they were literally two cents short on their monthly premium payment.

The problems with implementing COBRA, of course, cry out for the very comprehensive health care reforms that the Obama administration has spent nearly a year trying to enact. However, overall health care reforms (if passed by Congress) won’t take place until 2014. The unemployment crisis is now and the federal government has, at best, an uneven system of assisting with health care for the fifteen million or so unemployed.

Stimulus Funds Saving Coral Reefs

President Obama vowed early in his presidency that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would do double duty by creating or maintaining jobs and by helping solve problems in the environment, education, and basic infrastructure. As NPR’s Greg Allen reports, $3 million in stimulus funds are heading for Florida’s coral reefs, a crucial resource for the state’s tourism industry. Researchers and environmental organizations are all contributing to the effort to grow back the reefs and eventually to try to develop hardier species of coral that can withstand “elevated sea surface temperatures, bleaching, and disease.” The government stimulus funds will put “60 people to work raising and transplanting at least 12,000 corals over the next three years.”


It may be that Florida is shrinking (the state is experiencing out-migration for the first time in decades) but it’s likely to come back. And like California and other large states, Florida has the opportunity to be a leader and trendsetter in many areas of government. Given the massive development the state has already experienced, the present downturn may be the perfect time for Florida to figure out what “smart growth” really means.

Miller-McCune, a thoughtful grab-bag of a magazine, this month features an in-depth report by Hal Herring on the problem of Florida’s panhandle, where a massive timber company, St. Joe’s, owns huge swaths of environmentally sensitive land. The land is “home to a complex matrix of biodiversity” and its rivers “that flow through . . . to the Gulf [of Mexico] are among the nation’s cleanest, creating some of the richest fisheries in the planet.”

St. Joe’s has become more of a real estate development company than a timber company. It clearly takes environmental issues seriously, particularly since the new towns and communities it is building are sold with their natural setting as a key feature. St. Joe’s uses larger setbacks from rivers and the Gulf than Florida requires. But land use of any kind in this area is fraught with danger for the pristine waters and unique wildlife of the area. And many developers don’t share the record St. Joe’s has shown to date. As Herring writes, “there is simply no regulatory regime or government entity capable of protecting the public’s interests in the face of a politically powerful and sophisticated landholding giant like the St. Joe company.”

This situation in Florida’s Panhandle — a national natural resource as well as a jewel for the people of the Sunshine State — seems appropriate for urgent federal involvement and a larger national conversation. With national parks being pointed up as an area where the government works well, what about a Panhandle National Park that all Americans can enjoy?